Block party to kick off construction of West Side Riverway Park

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PITTSFIELD — The city will break ground on a riverside park on Dewey Avenue this summer, and organizers say that's cause for celebration. 

Architects behind the $680,000 project are working with the community group Westside Legends to host a block party this weekend to kick off the impending construction. The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at 181 Dewey Ave., and features music, dance performances, food and free activities. 

The city hopes the West Side Riverway Park, to be located along the West Branch of the Housatonic River, serves as a common backyard for residents. Its features will include an open-air pavilion, a pedestrian bridge over the river and a canoe launch. 

Plans for the project began more than a decade ago under former Mayor James Ruberto as a means to open up riverside green space once obscured by abandoned, aging mill buildings. Since then, the city has worked to acquire and clear 11 lots along the river, making a path for the park.

Now, the money is lined up and the project will go out to bid next month, said Nate Joyner, the city's permitting coordinator. The city's main source of funding, a $400,000 state grant, requires the city to finish the project by June of next year. 

The city also has a $110,000 grant lined up from the Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust, he said, as well as a $5,000 grant and some engineering services from the Housatonic Valley Association.

The city will cover the $175,000 difference, Joyner said. He said those funds were approved by the City Council last year. 

Joyner said 10 trees were planted at the park last month thanks to support from the Greening the Gateway City Program.

"Those were all planted in locations that won't be impacted by future construction," he said.

The Saturday block party, hosted by Westside Legends, will include gospel from various youth centers, dance performances from Albany Berkshire Ballet, Funk Box Studio and Youth Alive, free face-painting, crafts and other musical performances. 

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Tessa Kelly, co-owner of the architecture firm Arcade, said her company has been working on both the architecture and community planning pieces of the project. 

On the community engagement front, the firm is applying for a $7,500 grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation to fund the block party, as well as video interviews with West Side elders. 

Kelly said the thrust behind the video initiative is to show that the West Side is historically where immigrant groups land when they come to Pittsfield. Telling those stories could be valuable for the community, she said.

"It opens up people's imaginations about where the neighborhood can go," she said. 

In a four-week course through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College, Kelly said she also plans to map the history of small businesses in the West Side.

That grant will only go so far, she said, which is why she plans to apply for another $15,000 grant in September from the foundation. That would help start a pool of money to fund programs in the park, she said.

Meantime, she said she's grateful to have partnered with Westside Legends, a new nonprofit working to highlight the neighborhood's past and its potential. 

Kelly hosted a group of Latina residents at her office last week, presented preliminary designs and asked for input in the interest of creating a more inclusive park programming plan. The women suggested programming that draws in young people and keeps them focused on positive activities, and they requested family activities be held at the park throughout the week to accommodate people who work on the weekends. 

Kelly said the premise of building the park around community feedback helped the city secure the required funds for the park. 

Right now, she said the firm is finishing up construction documents and finalizing details like lighting, stone placement and plant choices. She said she'll be nailing down those specifics over the next few weeks.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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